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Japan’s largest mobile operator, NTT Docomo, has chosen Nokia to supply key hardware for a 2020 rollout of 5G cellular services in the country, the companies announced in a joint press release today. Though the release correctly notes that Japan has “a long and proud history of technological achievements and early technology adoption,” it places the country’s largest carrier a year behind 5G deployment timelines in the United States.

5G cellular technology promises speeds up to 100 times greater than 4G/LTE, with dramatically lower latency, higher security, and the ability to integrate into vehicular and manufacturing infrastructures. Tests of 5G in Japan have included broadcasts of 4K video and the safe remote control of construction machines, neither of which is practically feasible on 4G networks. The Japanese government has notably been pushing carriers for a 2020 5G rollout since 2014, hoping to beat other countries to the punch.

The agreement anticipates that Nokia will support NTT Docomo’s network evolution from 4G to 5G, using technology that meets the semi-finalized 3GPP 5G New Radio (5G NR) standard. Specifically, Nokia will provide new 5G baseband units (BBUs) and integrate 5G AirScale hardware within the existing NTT Docomo network. In a footnote, Nokia added that the 5G standard is presently unfinished but that Nokia 5G hardware is currently undergoing over 50 customer tests around the world, with the expectation of 2019-2020 commercial launches.

While the agreement is significant both in establishing a timeline for Japan’s rollout of 5G services and Nokia’s place as a supplier of 5G hardware, it isn’t a complete surprise. In fact, NTT Docomo has previously purchased Nokia hardware for 3G and 4G/LTE rollouts, and the companies have worked together to test 5G for deployment in Japan. NTT Docomo notes that Nokia’s support formalizes the carrier’s intention to launch 5G by 2020 and will “accelerate co-creation of new services and businesses with vertical industry partners.”

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